We sadly assume our highest calling is to be the high priests of Caesar’s court, telling it how God allegedly wants it to spend its money. Of course, being the high priests of Caesar’s court means you’ve got to get into the messy complexity of this court. How do we know that fighting for money to go to recreational facilities is the right thing to do? Maybe fighting for more funding for schools, or housing for the poor, or for more and better public transportation is a better fight. And what about the unlivable low minimum wage, or the lack of adequate shelters for the homeless, or the increasing number of people who lack basic health coverage, or the inadequate presence of police in dangerous neighborhoods? As the high priests of Caesar’s court, we have to make these tough decisions — and there’s only so much money to go around. Not only this, but every action creates a reaction, and as Caesar’s wiser and more caring counselors we have to be experts about all of these things. For example, it certainly feels wise and righteous to insist on higher wages for workers. But are we sure this won’t force many small business owners to fire workers, thereby harming the poor more than helping them? And it certainly feels wise and righteous to insist U.S. troops pull out of Iraq right now. But are we sure this won’t result in a greater bloodbath than there already is over there? And it certainly feels wise and righteous to insist on preserving a pool for inner city kids, but what if the money for this has to be taken from classrooms, requiring that some teachers be let go, resulting in a poorer education for these kids? Is a pool more important than education? It’s all very complex and ambiguous, but once we position ourselves as Caesar’s high priests, we have no choice but to wade through it all. And so, inevitably, we’ll disagree about many of these matters and we’ll have to fight each other over which battles are the “right” battles to be fighting and which ways are the “right” ways to be fighting them. The Matthews (conservatives) and Simons (liberals) in our churches will inevitably start wondering if the other “really” cares and is “really” Christian. . . And notice this: all the while we’re wading through these issues and fighting over what we think Caesar should do, we’re still spending 97% of our wealth on ourselves and not getting anything done for the Kingdom.
This is in relation to church getting ready to protest the closing of an inner-city recreational center. I think that this is a good example of the problem with trying to both fight and serve, judge and accept, save and give. The church body will fight to preserve funding, but not sacrifice to raise funding themselves. In fact, this sort of fighting is seen as a form of service and faithfulness. Later in the piece Boyd says: “If we stopped blaming government and started doing what we’re called to do, then after 100 years maybe Caesar would be asking us for advice on how to address issues like poverty.”
I say that this is related to my post from the other day because I think that it all goes back to the way that we continually compromise when it comes to following Jesus’ instructions – particularly once politics and the culture wars come into the picture. In the comments on my post about culture wars we talked a bit about paradox and balance when it comes to things like judgment. I make the point that until we actually know how to not judge, we cannot judge properly. We want to tell Caesar how to spend its money or what policies to have without having done the requisite work of having learned to do these things well ourselves. We want to temper clear instructions from Jesus by pointing to the paradoxes and ambiguities, to which my final comment was:
We often find that we can live with paradox when it allows us to continue doing what we’re comfortable with: judging, fighting, planning, advocating. But the BIG paradox is how to simply love. How to love when it’s offensive. How to love and only love. How to love when it harms us or is risky or unacceptable. As always, I think that Jesus is our model; he spent several years giving the slip to those who wanted to kill him. He stood up for himself and his disciples and even engaged in confrontation at the temple. However, all that lead up to the point in time where he allowed himself to be caught, didn’t speak in his own defense, didn’t confront but forgave those who were against him and went to complete and utter defeat – death. I don’t think there are a lot of Christians today who would be willing to give up their battles and accept defeat like that. I guess that’s the faithlessness I’m talking about.